Strengthening Turkey’s Diplomatic Intelligence Apparatus – The Arab Wall
Strengthening Turkey’s Diplomatic Intelligence Apparatus

Strengthening Turkey’s Diplomatic Intelligence Apparatus

With the escalation of crises in Turkey’s regional environment, including the recent Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, the Turkish intelligence apparatus, established 97 years ago on January 10th, has begun to play a significant role in shaping and crafting Turkish foreign policy. This is evident from the successes achieved by the apparatus, known by its acronym MIT, in diffusing some of Ankara’s crises with regional adversaries, while also providing a conducive environment for managing the tempo of tension with rivals in areas of influence. President Erdoğan, especially after the thwarting of the failed coup attempt in the summer of 2016, relied on the intelligence arm to achieve the foreign policy objectives of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), viewing the intelligence sector as one of Ankara’s tools in achieving its foreign policy goals.
The Turkish intelligence apparatus has played a pivotal role in executing and managing a wide range of Turkish policies, a role that escalated with the appointment of Hakan Fidan as the head of the intelligence agency in 2010. With İbrahim Kalın assuming leadership of the intelligence agency in June 2023, a series of organizational and procedural steps have been taken to further develop the intelligence apparatus, representing the sensitive nerve of Turkish national security. The most recent step was in January 2024 when the establishment of the “Turkish National Intelligence Academy” was announced. The academy aims to equip a generation of Turks capable of understanding and confronting the challenges facing the country internally and externally. It provides an opportunity for undergraduate students to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in intelligence studies.

Multiple Tasks
There are many policies revealing Ankara’s growing reliance on intelligence diplomacy, which can be outlined as follows:
1-Securitization of foreign policy management: Turkey has recently emphasized the placement of intelligence leaders in critical positions, exemplified by Hakan Fidan, the former head of the intelligence agency, assuming the role of Minister of Foreign Affairs just before President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s victory in the May 2023 elections. Erdogan also appointed his chief advisor, İbrahim Kalın, as the head of the intelligence agency, particularly due to Kalın’s involvement in handling the security aspects of foreign affairs in recent years. Kalın has been tasked with managing security arrangements with Washington and the European Union, as well as negotiating security agreements with Moscow regarding the crisis in Syria. Moreover, his efforts in addressing contentious issues with Sweden and Finland preceded Ankara’s approval of their accession to NATO.

2- Managing tensions with adversaries and competitors in the region and the world: In a related context, intelligence diplomacy has recently taken on the task of managing tensions with some regional and international powers. A notable instance occurred on March 6th when Turkish intelligence announced the arrest of seven individuals suspected of gathering and selling information to the Israeli intelligence agency, “Mossad.” This announcement wasn’t the first of its kind; in January and February 2024, Turkish intelligence apprehended espionage cells operating in favor of Israel and initiated legal proceedings against them. Furthermore, on February 20th of the previous year, Turkish intelligence (MIT) disclosed an operation resulting in the arrest of three Syrians accused of spying for France.
The Turkish intelligence’s announcements regarding the dismantling of espionage cells convey several messages to adversaries and competitors. For instance, it serves as a warning to Israel against tracking or neutralizing Palestinian elements residing on Turkish soil. Similarly, Turkish intelligence may seek to underscore the need for vigilance against French actions targeting Turkish interests. Additionally, Turkey might be aiming to communicate a message to Tehran by highlighting its intelligence efforts, cautioning against the risks of using Turkish territory to settle scores with enemies of the Iranian regime. This is particularly relevant in light of recent Israeli assassinations of several Iranian Revolutionary Guard leaders inside Syrian territories.

3- Resolving disputes with key Arab powers: As tension escalates in Ankara’s regional relations, intelligence diplomacy has emerged as a crucial tool in resolving a significant portion of these issues, alongside its ongoing role in addressing lingering regional challenges. This was particularly evident in the management by the Turkish intelligence apparatus of arrangements to mend relations with Cairo. Currently, the Turkish intelligence apparatus is also actively engaged in managing contentious political matters with Iraq. This was exemplified by İbrahim Kalın, the head of Turkish intelligence, visiting Iraq on January 23rd of the previous year, where he held meetings with the Iraqi President, Prime Minister, National Security Advisor, and the head of the State of Law Coalition, Nouri al-Maliki, as well as representatives of Sunni, Shia, and Turkmen communities. Kalın’s focus on meetings with Iraqi political figures, rather than security counterparts, underscores the dominance of Turkish intelligence diplomacy in addressing political disputes with Baghdad.

4- Managing hot conflicts in different geographical hotspots: The Turkish intelligence apparatus plays a pivotal role in handling intense crises, as Turkish intelligence has intensified its efforts in the current phase to clarify developments in regional hot conflicts and anticipate potential crises. In this context, on the brink of the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the Turkish President relied on Turkish intelligence to manage the crisis. This reliance was evident in Turkish intelligence elements establishing direct communication channels with the conflicting parties, facilitating the conclusion of the Grain Export Agreement in 2022. Additionally, the Turkish intelligence apparatus has bolstered coordination and cooperation with international intelligence agencies concerned with developments in the Ukrainian crisis.
In parallel, the Turkish intelligence apparatus was actively involved in the developments surrounding the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, which commenced on the eve of Operation Guardian of the Walls on October 7th of last year. This involvement intensified notably after the families of Israeli captives appealed to Turkish President Erdoğan for intervention to secure the release of their relatives. The statements made by the Turkish President on November 18th of last year can be understood in this context, where he responded to the request for assistance from the families of the Israeli hostages, stating: “We have engaged our intelligence agency in the matter, and it is currently conducting the necessary investigations. We are working to achieve results.” Another indication of the role of Turkish intelligence diplomacy regarding the war on Gaza came from İbrahim Kalın, the head of the agency, who stated on January 24th of last year: “Ankara is working day and night to halt the attacks on Gaza, ensure a permanent ceasefire, deliver aid, and facilitate the exchange of prisoners.”
Furthermore, the tasks of the Turkish intelligence apparatus were not limited to the aforementioned. Intelligence played an effective role, for example, in the Libyan conflict and the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis.

5- Grappling with the complexities of the Kurdish file: Amidst the political deadlock in resolving the Kurdish issue within Turkey and Ankara’s escalating concerns over the growing influence of Kurdish self-administration in northeastern Syria, alongside the persistent military operations of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq, Turkish intelligence has emerged as the primary focal point in addressing the Kurdish file. This is evident in the remarks of the Turkish President on the eve of celebrating the anniversary of the establishment of the agency on January 10th of last year. He revealed that the intelligence agency is at the forefront of Turkish institutions, effectively utilizing drones against Kurdish groups classified by Ankara as terrorists. He added, “The Turkish intelligence agency does not allow terrorists to catch their breath thanks to its extensive network of sources and advanced technological capabilities.” Furthermore, he emphasized, “We have rendered the so-called leadership cadre of the organization (PKK) unable to leave their hideouts due to our qualitative intelligence operations in Syria and Iraq.

6- Participation in international forums: The head of the Turkish intelligence agency regularly participates in conferences and international forums concerning strategic issues. His most recent participation was in the proceedings of the sixtieth session of the Munich Security Conference hosted by Germany in mid-February of last year. Additionally, Turkish intelligence has notably engaged in the multilateral Astana meetings aimed at resolving the Syrian crisis, and has also been involved in international conferences related to managing the Ukrainian crisis. Notably, Turkish intelligence took charge of managing the grain exchange deal signed on July 22nd, 2022, under the auspices of the United Nations.

Strategic Arm
In conclusion, it can be said that intelligence diplomacy has become one of the most important strategic arms of the Turkish state in implementing its foreign policy, while also serving as an active axis in empowering and consolidating the ruling authority. This is achieved through securing the domestic front or managing regional and international issues that represent strategic and security priorities for the country.